Ed Fitzpatrick: Bright Night has been a bright spot on city scene
01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, December 8, 2009
If we’re looking for low-cost options for this year’s Bright Night Providence, I’ll bet the White House party crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, would make an appearance. (Though they might be more likely to come if they’re not invited.)
I’m guessing Sarah Palin would come to “Rogue Island” for the state’s largest New Year’s Eve celebration if we give her a chance to peddle her new book, “Going Rogue.” (My favorite part is when she misattributes a quote from American Indian activist John Wooden Legs to former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.)
And if we can work something out with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, perhaps disbarred Providence lawyer John M. Cicilline, the imprisoned brother of Mayor David N. Cicilline, could sit on a stool, play the ukulele and set off sparklers. (Sentenced to 18 months after pleading guilty to conspiring to shake down drug-dealer clients, he is scheduled to be released to a halfway house on Dec. 29, so maybe his performance could count as community service.)
Of course, I’m joking. (Everyone knows Cicilline can’t play the ukulele.)
I’m actually a big fan of Bright Night. We brought our kids downtown last year despite frigid temperatures, 8 inches of snow and 25-mph winds, and since so many people stayed home, we had great seats at the Providence College/St. John’s basketball game. We wandered over to the Convention Center to see the Nerveless Nocks Daredevil Thrill Show. And later, we saw a performer that we referred to as the “existential clown.” (She had a trombone and talked about the apocalypse.)
So I was sorry to hear that Bright Night Providence is slashing expenses and making an emergency appeal for donations. The city usually provides Bright Night with $20,000, but amid this year’s fiscal crisis, the city has committed to providing just $5,000 in city services and no cash. The festival has applied for a grant from the Providence Tourism Council, which in the past has provided $25,000 for a fireworks display. But since the festival won’t have fireworks this year, it’s unclear if it can get the grant.
I understand why the city is cutting its contribution. The state unemployment rate stands at 12.9 percent (the third-highest rate in the country). And this year the city raised property taxes even as it slashed millions of dollars from the city budget, froze wages and axed jobs.
You’d have to be an existential clown to spend $20,000 in taxpayer money on New Year’s Eve fun. Still, Bright Night does provide a civic beacon, a magnet that draws thousands of families together to see musicians, magicians, actors, dancers, singers, acrobats, clowns, puppeteers and storytellers.
So I hope businesses and everyday residents heed the call of festival director Adam G. Gertsacov, who hopes 2,010 people will donate $20 and pass on the appeal to 10 other people. (Go to www.brightnight.org.)
Gertsacov noted that local artists launched Bright Night Providence seven years ago after First Night Providence faltered. He said the event boosts the local economy, bringing up to 20,000 people downtown, and 90 percent of the performers come from the Rhode Island area. Most importantly, the event offers a chance to “come out and celebrate the New Year in a family-friendly way and celebrate Rhode Island’s most important cultural asset, which is its artists,” he said.
“We make people happy,” Gertsacov said. “And we don’t want the city to go dark on New Year’s Eve.”